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A Public Transportation Tour of the Northwest

Ever wondered if you could travel in America without a car? Most people wouldn’t think it were possible, but we traveled from Seattle to Victoria BC via Port Townsend and Port Angeles with nothing more than our feet, buses, and regular ferries. Initially we thought of taking our tandem bicycle along, which would have added a few complications we weren’t ready to encounter. If you’re going solo with a bicycle, most buses and all ferries could take you when you need a push.

We started from San Jose, taking Amtrak’s Coast Starlight to Seattle, a 24-hour journey through Northern California, Oregon, and Washington State. The purpose of going on a trip is to slow down, and avoiding the hustle and bustle of airports was just refreshing. We took a roomette, which in Amtrak’s world is the equivalent of Business Class, providing us with a small compartment where the seats transform into bunk beds, complete with sheets and pillows, made by our attendant when we asked. Right before departure time, I ran to a grocery store to buy a bottle of wine and snacks to take along (selecting one with screw top). Right there, as our train passed through the East Bay, I realized how I didn’t miss air travel: our roomette afforded us privacy and quiet impossible to obtain on an airplane. The only hiccup occurred in the morning, when apparently we missed the announcement that breakfast service would end at 8:30. Needless to say, I had read the brochure that said breakfast would be served until 10:00, and at 8:30 we were still enjoying a late morning. “The people who write this don’t ride the train,” was the lame excuse offered by the dining room manager (or so I assume his title to be). He later offered me a tray of breakfast cereal and croissants, so I renounced my idea of writing Amtrak a letter. The thing is, the lounge and dining-car personnel gave us the impression that we should submit to their schedule and ways, not the other way around. It may have to do with the fact that, unlike air travel, passengers have no alternative to run to as soon as they’ve been deprived of favors. Anyway, we arrived in Seattle before the scheduled time. I had noticed all along that the schedule is padded so that the train could be delayed and still be “on time.”

In Seattle we had no desire to go watch fishmongers throwing fish around, or shop for souvenirs, so after a nice breakfast at Macrina Café in Belltown, we met our friend from Everett who suggested taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island and have lunch there. That was a fun short trip, complete with a wine tasting stop. On the way back, we learned where we could take the 510 express bus to Everett the day after, an easy walk or free bus ride from the Belltown Inn where we stayed. In the evening we discovered a small movie theatre called The Big Picture, situated at the basement of a bar and restaurant called El Gaucho. The movie theatre has a full bar and serves popcorn in a champagne bucket. They even offer to bring you drinks and more popcorn at your seat an hour into the movie.

The 510 bus to Everett travels mostly on the freeway, and the availability of a bus and carpool lane makes its schedule predictable. We visited our friend in Everett for the day, but otherwise one would take the 18 bus of Everett Transit to Mukilteo to continue the trip and catch the ferry to Whidbey Island. On the other side, the 1 bus of Island Transit (free) awaits passengers to travel north. We stopped at Coupeville for lunch on the pier (nice restaurant), knowing to take the 6 bus in the other direction (Keystone) down to the ferry to Port Townsend.

We stayed in Port Townsend, in one of the ancestral homes up the hill. Other options would have included old hotels in the port area. We stayed at the Ann Starrett Mansion (which was for sale, if you’re interested), well worth the climbing of stairs up town, had dinner at a Thai restaurant (I ventured to order a tofu dish that was delicious), went to listen to live music at Upstage.

From Port Townsend, beware that buses (Jefferson Co. Transit) don’t run on Sundays or holidays, and that the 8 bus to Sequim (pronounced “squim”) only runs twice on Saturdays. On a Saturday it means you should wake up early or spend the day in Port Townsend, which was our preferred option, not being morning people. Good thing, because we found Owl Sprit Café, the public Library, and the Farmer’s Market. At the bus terminal in Sequim, one catches the #30 Clallam Co Transit bus to Port Angeles (easy enough, everyone goes on to catch it), which gets you to the ferry terminal.

Because it was a holiday week-end, we suspected that arriving in Victoria late without reservations would be problematic, so we stayed at a motel in Port Angeles, and had dinner at a southwest-style restaurant called Kokopelli (recommended; it has a great wine list too).

In the morning we had a choice of the faster Victoria Express or the regular car ferry. We wanted to catch a train in Victoria, so we chose the Express, but if you like a bigger boat on which you can walk around and have breakfast, take the car ferry. Beware that if you’re in a hurry to get off the boat, it unloads from the back (very important, as there will be a line at the Customs). They unload the luggage first, so you’ll pick it up on the dock.

Our destination was Nanaimo, and ultimately Gabriola Island, so we could have taken a Greyhound bus from the nearby bus terminal, or the Via Rail train, which on a Sunday leaves at 10:00. This was a convenient connection, but we took a taxi because we’d been delayed by a crowded line at Customs. The train tracks are old, making it a rickety ride, but still more fun than the bus ride.

I came back to Seattle the faster way, and saw nothing of interest. I nearly took a sea plane ride, chose the fast ferry instead, to notice that all passengers from the sea plane had been diverted to the ferry due to fog. A better option would have been to fly from Victoria airport. But then again, I had a glass of wine on the boat (which was crowded that Labor Day night), and a book to read. I didn’t feel rushed until I had to catch a flight from Seattle Airport…

Note: Google Maps will give you most of the transit information gathered here, but at this time it doesn’t know about Everett Transit. It will send you on a roundabout way.

1 Comment

  1. Brenda Brooks says

    Very easy to visualize your entire trip.
    Maybe you should write for Travel magazine!! ………( I’m serious.)

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